Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 21 September 1904

Mr CROUCH (Corio) - I regret very much that the Prime Minister is not present. .

Mr Mauger - Send for him ; he ought to be here.

Mr CROUCH - Last night I was subjected to a bitter personal attack at the hands of the Prime Minister. Of course, I feel that since the right honorable member for East Sydney has taken the position of Prime Minister, certain good traditions of decency, fair play, and proper conduct have been practically relegated to the background. It was only last week, if I remember rightly, that the Prime Minister used, in regard to myself, an expression so indecent that Mr. Speaker, I believe, has directed that it shall be struck out of the Hansard reports. And yesterday he1 used another, expression of an equally dirty nature. If the Prime Minister continues to indulge in such ex- pressions it will be just as well that ladies should know when he is going to spe-ak, so that they may realize that it is quite impossible for them to. attend.

Mr Johnson - That is a bad construction to place on an innocent remark.

Mr CROUCH - The traditions of this House have remained unsullied in the hands of decent men until the Prime Minister assumed office. It is a common saying that if we scratch a Russian we find the Tartar, and I venture to say that if we scratch the right honorable member for East Sydney we find a larrikin. If I had no other ground for getting rid of the Ministry than the fact that a gentleman of his calibre - of his. manners and sense of_ decency - holds the high office of Prime" Minister, that of itself would certainly be some justification, and a great justification, for voting for their immediate dismissal. Since the right honorable gentleman came into office, this corner has been subjected to his bitter attacks, though previously all interjections from this portion of the House were received with smiles. The fact was, he wanted to cajole or get the support of the Labour Party, who then occupied the corner. Shortly after the right honorable member for Adelaide left the Government, the present Prime Minister approached the Labour Party and asked the latter to assist in removing the Government from office. He was only too eager to enter into coalition with the party he at present despises and condemns. But now anything from this corner is looked upon by the Prime Minister most severely. Honorable members who sit in the corner are personally attacked, and everything they say seems, in the mind of the Prime Minister, to have a personal meaning! I want to refer, in the first place, to the quotation which the Prime Minister made yesterday from a letter which appeared in the Melbourne Age of 9th September of this year, as follows: -

It is notorious that his accounts were publicly condemned as " cooked " ; and that a disinterested board, appointed by the Government, consisting of the general managers of the leading banks in Sydney, supported this criticism by finding that public . moneys . had been misused, accounts doc- tored, and- balances wrongly applied.

The Prime Minister used that quotation and added -

I say that if that were true, I should not stand in any public assembly of honorable men.

I am glad the Prime Minister has taken up that position, because I venture to say that

I shall be able to show his brazen effrontery in attempting, not only to deny the existence of documents, but to use those who signed the report on which he apparently attempts to base his vindication, thus exhibiting his absolute disbelief in the existence of any intelligence in the House. He evidently thinks the public will not take the trouble to read the report for themselves.

Mr Mauger - I beg to direct attention to the state of the House. This -is an important matter, and Ministers ought to be present to hear the debate. [Quorum formed.]

Mr CROUCH - In the first place, I want- to say that there is nothing in my attack which reflects on the Prime Minister's personal honour. I am not charging him, as I suppose honorable members will understand, with putting his hands into the Treasury and taking out sovereigns - I am not charging him with paying public moneys into his private account. That, I presume, will be understood by anybody except the Prime Minister, who tried to place that interpretation upon my letter. But, at the same time, I charge the Prime Minister - and I think I can prove the charge - with lavish expenditure of borrowed money. I also make the charge that his accounts were publicly condemned as cooked, that a disinterested Committee, appointed bv the Government, supported that criticism by finding that the public funds had been misused, accounts doctored, and balances wrongly applied. I wish to deal with each one of those statements, in order to ascertain whether they cannot be justified.

Mr Lonsdale - Who appointed the Committee? It was a partisan Committee.

Sir William Lyne - That is not correct ; two of ils members were recommended by the right honorable gentleman himself.

Mr CROUCH - I am asked, who appointed the committee. I was just going to ask, who had the selection of the members of it ? The Government of New South Wales appointed the committee, but the two banking members, Mr. T. A. Dibbs, the General Manager of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney - an institution and a man of good repute - and Mr. J. Russell French, General Manager and Chairman of the Bank of New South Wales, were selected by the right honorable member for East Sydney himself to represent him upon the board. I know nothing about the other member of the Committee, Mr. Yarwood, except that he is a public accountant of repute, in Sydney, and he was appointed by :he Government.

Mr Fuller - A political opponent of the right honorable member for East Sydney.

Mr CROUCH - Apparently honorable members on the other side do not like this. Yesterday these men were all first-class men. When, in order to get a certificate of character to present to the people of Australia, in reply to what he called "slanderous statements" concerning him, the right honorable gentleman read a letter from these gentlemen white- washing him, they were all first-class men, though now Ministerial supporters are doing their best! to discredit them. I take the Prime Minister on his own ground. In order to vindicate his position and his financial administration, the right honorable gentleman selected three men, and he yesterday placed before honorable members a document signed by them. As soon as it is clear that I. aim able to show who those men are, and the right honorable gentleman and those behind him become aware of the nature of the report of the Committee, and that it will justify every one of the statements made in my letter to the Age, Ministerialists say that " these men are no good. They were appointed by a Government adverse to the present Prime Minister." The honorable member for Hume informs me that two of the members of the Committee were nominated by the right honorable member for East Sydney to represent himself. That is to say, he had the nomination of two out of the three members forming it. The right honorable gentleman yesterday brought to this House what he called a .justification, signed by the three members of the Committee. In the first place, we do not know the terms of the letter the right honorable gentleman wrote to those gentlemen. We may gather something of it from the statement made by Mr. Kirkpatrick,' who says, " There is nothing against your personal honour." the letter from Mr. T. A. Dibbs, Mr. J. Russell French, and Mr. Yarwood is as follows : -

Dear Mr. Reid,

Referring to your note of the 10th inst. to Mr. Russell French, covering extract from a letter published in the Melbourne Age, our report, which is referred to, speaks for itself, and should not have given rise to any misapprehension.

In view, however, of the remarks in the extract in question, it is but just to you to state that we made no reflection whatever on your personal honour or integrity.

Who alleged that they did ? No one made any statement with respect to the right honorable; gentleman's personal honour, but only in regard to his action as Premier and Treasurer of New South Wales. The letter continues -

Nor did we intend to suggest any improper manipulation of the Treasury accounts by yourself, or the Treasury officials, as would seem to be implied by the terms " cooked " or " doctored," which appear in the letter.

This is the justification which the right honorable gentleman puts forward. He 'first submitted a clean bill of health from Mr. Waddell, who says that he knows nothing bad of the present Prime Minister. I suppose the right honorable gentleman was very glad to get that recommendation. Mr. Waddell personally approves of him, and thinks that there is nothing materially wrong with him. That is all Mr. Waddell said; but we find Mr. J. Vernon, and Mr. Kirkpatrick - the Auditor-General of New South Wales, and the Under-Secretary of the State Treasury - are also called as witnesses. I have here the actual report of the Committee, and I find that the Prime Minister is appealing in * this question from the judges in the case, two of whom were selected bv himself,- to the very men who were the principal witnesses. The right honorable gentleman forgot to tell us yesterday, that what he submitted was the witnesses' evidence brought up again. The three judges, whose remarks are really condemnatory, by their faint praise and attempt to save the right honorable gentleman from the results of his own .maladministration, had heard the evidence of the two men whose 'certificates the right honorable gentleman submitted to this House, and they still decided against him.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is that all the evidence they heard?

Mr CROUCH - I say that they were amongst the witnesses heard.

Mr Robinson - Where is the letter from Mr. Dibbs the honorable and learned member said he had ?

Mr CROUCH - My honorable friends will have the letter quickly enough - too quickly for those who desire to defend the character of the Prime Minister. I propose to deal with the matter in my own way. At present I am dealing with the report brought up by the Committee. Although the Prime Minister is not' present, I trust that both the Melbourne daily newspapers will give me fair play, in the endeavour to show conclusively, as I think I can, that my statements that the right honorable gentleman's accounts as Treasurer of New South Wales were cooked, that the funds were misappropriated, and the balance wrongly applied by him, are true. I shall then leave it to the Prime Minister himself to say if, in view of the facts, he feels that he can stand in any assembly of honorable men.

Mr Johnson - I thought the honorable and learned member was not going to attack the character of the right honorable gentleman ?

Mr CROUCH - The right honorable gentleman attacks his own character. He has said that in certain circumstances he could not stand in any assembly of honorable men. I propose to mention the circumstances, and if, when they are mentioned, the right honorable gentleman chooses to stain his own character, I shall let him do so. I cannot read the whole of the evidence, which covers 263 pages, but I propose to read certain portions of the report -

As regards the division between the amount charged to " Loan Expenditure " and the ordinary and usual expenses of carrying on the Govern-' ment of the colony, we find that the appearance of a surplus at the end of the first year (30th June, 1896), was produced, to some extent, by changing the date of the financial year from January-December to July-June, whereby the inclusion of a considerable amount of the annual expenditure proper, to the accounts of 1895-6, was avoided. Some of the items we refer to are as under, viz. : -


That shows clearly that the Treasurer of New South Wales, the Premier of New South Wales, the present Prime Minister, in order to get a good balance-sheet to put before the people of that State, did not charge to its proper account each item of expenditure which should properly have been debited to a particular year, the object being to inflate his balance-sheet, and make it appear that he was a good financial administrator, when, as a matter of fact, he was not. The right honorable gentleman simply "cooked his accounts" - that is the plain way of putting it. The members of the Committee, as judges, proceeded with . judicial calmness, and expressed their view in judicial language ; but the man in the street, and honorable members here, on hearing the evidence, would say that the right honorable gentleman had "cooked his accounts." The Committee further report -

In addition to the above, the principle of treating part of the expenditure on services paid in 1895-6 as liabilities of previous years, was not one which should have been adopted if it was intended (which we think ought to have been the case) to have shown a true and actual twelve months' expenses against a twelve months' revenue.

The first showed that the right honorable gentleman had included in his income amounts which should not have been so included, because they were not properly receivable in the year, and that he had omitted from his expenditure amounts which he should not have omitted from a true account of the actual revenue and expenditure for the twelve months. I ask the House whether that does not prove that the accounts were "cooked."

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the honorable and learned member's statement gave the whole truth, it might prove that ; but we are getting from him a " cooked " account of the report of the Committee.

Mr CROUCH - I am quoting from the "Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Public Accounts, together with the minutes of evidence, appendices, &c, appointed 2nd April, 1900, and printed under No. 7 report from Printing Committee, 2nd August, 1900." That report is signed by every member of the Committee. Another statement which it contains is this -

It seems to us that while the full year's revenue collected was put to the credit o'f 1895-6, the expenditure charged against the same was relieved to such an extent as to produce an alleged surplus of about £333,000 on the 30th June, 1896, whereas it is our unanimous opinion that, had the year 1895-6 been charged with a full ordinary twelve months' expenditure, there would have been a considerable deficiency. We unanimously estimate the same at not less than £550,000.

The Prime Minister had stated , that he had a surplus of £333.000 on the 30th June, 1896, whereas the Committee, two of whom were appointed by himself, and one of whom is an experienced public accountant in New South Wales, said that there was a deficiency of ,£550,000. Am I justified, therefore, in saying that the Prime Minister " cooked " the accounts ?

Mr Robinson - No. The honorable and learned member might perhaps explain the Contemporary Review incident.

Mr CROUCH - The honorable and learned member is referring - in my opinion, very improperly - to a statement which appeared in to-day's Argus, and I ask him if he has any charge to make against me to do me the courtesy to state it. I cannot but be conscious of the interjections of himself and the honorable member for Wentworth. I strongly object to alleged gentlemen-

Mr Robinson - This from the hero of the Albert Park incident !

Mr CROUCH - Perhaps these are Oxford manners, and must therefore be excused. When a man's sole claim to breeding is that he has been in the same shop, and has been shaved by a barber who once shaved the Prince of Wales, there is no more to be said. The report continues -

The above figures are based on those of the Treasury itself, and are without taking into consideration the fact that on the expenditure side the full payments in redemption of old liabilities, which, it appears to' us, should have been made during that period according to law (31 Vic, No. 11), have been omitted to be charged to the extent of ^'68,292 10s. ; while several small amounts have been put to the credit of " revenue " which ought rightly to have been considered as received in reduction of liabilities prior to the 30th June, 1S95, when the change in system took place.

That is clearly a case in which balances' were wrongly applied, which is another criticism to which the right honorable gentleman objects. The third statement to which he objects is that he was guilty of lavish borrowing and expenditure; but the figures given by the Committee show that during the five years in which he was Premier of New South Wales the loan indebtedness of that State increased by over ;£.i 0,000,000. If that is not an instance of lavish borrowing and expenditure, to use the words of the charge, I do not know what further evidence. is necessary to convict the right honorable gentleman of it. The report continues -

During the whole of this branch of our inquiry we have invariably, where we could conscientiously do so, given the Administration of that time the benefit of any doubt in connexion with any matters which have arisen : but we cannot help coming to the conclusion that the accounts of 1S95-6 should have been submitted in such a manner as would have enabled the public to form a correct judgment of the effect of the change of system on that year's accounts. We recognise that the accounts, as they were submitted, after the change of system to what has been termed the " cash " basis, conformed to the programme sanctioned by Parliament -

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Hear, hear. It is Parliament that is there being criticised, not the Minister.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable gentleman knows better than that.


Mr CROUCH - The report continues-

The accounts, as so made up, brought out a surplus; but, from a business point of view, we cannot see that any such surplus really accrued to the period, but the contrary, as we have shown, and we think this should have been clearly set forth at the time the accounts were submitted. In other words, the result of our inquiry shows that, under all the circumstances of the case, the issue of Treasury Bills, to the net amount of £1,024,700, as covering liabilities of previous years, and representing an ascertained deficiency, at the 30th June, 1895, WAS unnecessary, and had the- effect of considerably and unduly lessening the expenditure charged to the next ensuing year, and was, therefore, in our opinion, misleading, inasmuch as thereby the subsequent real condition of the finances was not made apparent.

If any further evidence of my charges is required, there it is. The Committee say that the real condition of the finances was not made apparent. I admit that I am not reading the whole report, but I am reading everything that fairly bears upon the case. The Committee were asked to answer the question -

Whether the sum of ^1,500,000 was transferred from Trust Funds to the General Loan Account, as alleged, by the Auditor-General ?

To that question their reply was, "Yes." I will not read the whole of the report, it is too long, but it shows, amongst other things, that the Savings Bank funds were applied to ordinary loan accounts. I think I have said sufficient to show that the Prime Minister not only misused the public moneys, but also cooked the public accounts. Now for the sequel. In January, 1903, I attended the opening of the Kalgoorlie Water Works. The Prime Minister was, at the time, engaged in making a tour of Western Australia in the free-trade interest. He was not then favorably disposed towards the Victorian protectionists, whom he has now got into his clutches, and he spoke as bitterly as he possibly could against them, and made strong attacks upon the Victorian manufacturers. I was representing a protectionist constituency, and I was glad enough to accede to the request of a Western Australian newspaper for an interview to defend them. I thought that the statements which the Prime Minister was making against the Victorian manufacturers and workers were absolutely unjustifiable, and that the sooner a direct denial was given to them the better. The statements I made in the course of that interview are not of any great importance,- so far as the present occasion is concerned. The Prime Minister answered my remarks at Kalgoorlie. He was then a great distance away from Sydney, and, as it was very unlikely- that the reports in the Kalgoorlie newspapers would' be circulated in New South Wales, he. thought he could safely abuse the gentlemen who have now given him a certificate of character. This was not the first time that the right honorable gentleman ,had denied the statements made by the members of the Committee on Public Accounts in New South Wales, but his remarks were then stronger than ever before. He not only said that the report was of no good, but attacked the members of the Committee who were appointed by himself. I shall only quote a portion of his statement. He said -

When the charges .of unfair financial administration were investigated by a committee appointed by Sir William Lyne, that committee reported that I had kept the accounts of the Treasury according to law, and that the accounts, as so kept, showed a surplus. That finding completely exonerated me from all imputations which had been made. The questions, with regard to the legislation of Parliament, are open to differences of opinion. The only serious one for the public to determine was whether I had adhered to the legislation, that I had passed in managing the Treasury. This was found by Sir William Lyne's appointed committee. I had no confidence in that committee.

The right honorable gentleman has no confidence in any one unless they are prepared to make him the Prime Minister. He proceeds - because one of its- members was a political opponent, and I had protested against his inclusion.


Mr CROUCH - Might I ask 'who was the political opponent of the right honorable gentleman?


Sir William Lyne - A great free-trader.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He was nothing of the kind. He stood at the elections as a supporter of the honorable member for Hume.

Sir William Lyne - That is not a fact.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr. Yarwood denounced the Prime Minister, up and down, at the previous election.

Sir William Lyne - That is not correct.

Suggest corrections